The Black Leaders Collective (BLC) is a collaboration of Central Texas leaders representing grassroots community members, nonprofits leaders, entrepreneurs, artists, activists, educators, policymakers, and young professionals. We have organized eight issue groups, one of which focuses on Transportation issues affecting the Black community in Travis and Williamson counties.
As a collective movement for the prosperity of Black Folx in the Austin MSA, we are heavily engaged in all spheres that have and continue to negatively impact our people. One such being, transportation and mass infrastructure, specifically I-35 which has displaced, segregated, and disenfranchised our people since its inception and to this day. In this vein, we write this letter in order to meaningfully engage on the topic of the future of I-35.
We are hopeful of the community engagement being done by OurFuture35 and therefore express our support for the following:
The pending reconstruction of I-35 brings us an opportunity to not only repair the racist legacy of the highway that has long divided our city, but it obligates us to take a new approach this time – one that brings the community to the table in an unquestionably meaningful way. We can do more than avoid the impacts of I-35’s reconstruction; we can prioritize the best outcomes for Austin and its communities of color.
We request the following be incorporated in TxDOT’s I-35 Capital Express Central Project (the Project) before it advances to the next step in the NEPA process. This includes modification of the Purpose and Need statement to reflect these important community priorities.
- Rectify long standing disproportionate racial and economic impacts exacerbated by the original construction of I-35. The decision to place I-35 along East Avenue created permanent state-funded infrastructure that supported Jim Crow and segregationist policies. The future I-35 Project must help disrupt past impacts to Austin’s Black communities.
- Prioritize safe local access and connectivity to, along, and across the I-35 corridor for pedestrians, cyclists, transit riders, people with disabilities, the elderly, health vulnerable, children, students of all ages, and individuals who are experiencing homelessness. Create a safe, local street network at surface level to ensure that all people driving cars and all vulnerable road users can safely and efficiently get around.
- Co-design the Project with the community ensuring that neighborhoods like the Blacklands, Chestnut Hill, Blackshear and Robertson Hill communities are represented and voices are weighted more so than other groups participating in the process. =Our Future 35 community alternatives and the Downtown Austin Alliance ULI study recommendations—even in pre-engineering phases—as part of the full Environmental Impact Statement.
- Show us the racial equity lens framework you are using to evaluate the alternatives for the project.
- Shrink the footprint of the Project and fully evaluate and mitigate its environmental and community well-being impacts. This includes physical and mental health impacts such as nature-deficit disorder, respiratory disorders, premature death, access to schools and healthcare. It also includes air and water quality, noise pollution, impacts to wildlife/endangered species, loss of parkland, access to parkland, loss of farmable land, climate change, heat island effect, and drainage/flooding impacts resulting from the Project.
- Provide a minimum of 180 days of public comment for all future comment periods. Proactively educate everyone about the Project so that all impacts of design/ engineering decisions and build alternatives are known and understood by the community. Due to COVID-19 and the digital divide, please ensure that they are more than online strategies employed to engage with the Black community.
Additionally, the BLC would like to express its interest in the following:
Future Land — How will potential future created land be owned and how potential benefits of this newly created land can favorably impact historically underserved communities?
Stabilization Funding —Additionally, the community group is inspired by the articulation, identification, and community engagement which manifested the $300 million dollar of stabilization funding connected with Project Connect. In order to ensure that the substance of our recommendations are effectuated in this mass-transit evolution, there must be resources allocated to their success.
We look forward to open and transparent dialogue between the BLC and Tx-Dot and the future
of I-35 making up for its past.
ABOUT BLACK LEADERS COLLECTIVE
BLC is leading a transformative movement that is intersectional and intergenerational. We are
creating a mechanism for change that is Black-conceived and Black-led to define the priorities of
the Black diaspora in Central Texas. The Black Leaders Collective welcomes the support of all
Black leaders and allies in Travis and Williamson Counties. BLC is made of over 70 Black-led
organizations in the Austin MSA and includes members of the Black Austin Democrats, Austin
Area Urban League, Austin NAACP, Austin Justice Coalition, People United for Mobility
Action, and numerous Elected Officials at multiple levels of government.